If you build it, he will come. So, let’s build a castle? It seems to have worked for Mr. Newman as now I find myself touring his unorthodox home with a group of homeschoolers on an out-of-town field trip. I’ve always wanted to explore a real-life castle hoping to one day go to Ireland but for now settling for a baker’s work in progress is more affordable.
The adventure begins in town as tickets must be obtained from his bakery. Newman’s Bakery has been a staple in the Belville community for over 33 years now. It is a great spot to grab breakfast for the kiddos before touring the castle. Even though we did not have time to place an order, the baked goods looked amazing as well as the full-on breakfast served. If you live anywhere in the area, the bakery alone is worth a small trip. I’m sure the shop has no problem bringing in the locals, but the real genius is utilizing the castle tours to attract out of towners that will drive an hour and a half to make in store purchases while they await the 10:30 am scheduled departure time to the castle.
The meeting place is literally 5 minutes or so down the road. My group was running behind schedule so the wait time once we arrived was not too long, but my wife has read reviews of around a thirty-minute wait till the actual tour begins. Everyone gathers under this covered pavilion area to await the king. He comes out of his home semi dressed as a ruler with crown on and longsword in hand. Children are then instructed to acquire wooden swords from a crate and line up to be either knighted or dame depending on gender.
After a lengthy speech on the back history of the castle, which he claims to have personally built a great deal of it himself, the group shuffles over to the catapult station where a child is appointed to instruct one of his followers to launch a rock into the mote towards the castle. His very hairy dog will assist as well as it has clearly participated in the process hundreds of times. It is now time to storm the castle as this concludes the tour portion and moves into a free roam of the structure. Sack lunches are also provided on the tour which is included in the price of admission. Does this Texas castle live up to the hype? Everyone probably has similar experiences but through different eyes. Through mine, however, they are a bit childish.
First, the bakery was super busy! So even though tours are by reservation online only, tickets still need to be purchased at his original place of business. This is an amazing marketing tool for his store front but an extra chore for his employees. I saw two cooks and two women running the register/ baked goods counter. Lots of customers need this and that and I had to bother them with tour questions and extra tickets for a group running behind. After obtaining wrist bands it was time to finally visit the castle!
We arrive and park in the woods with a sandy driveway area. Not great for strollers at all. My two-year-old was getting left behind because I kept getting the wheels stuck in the sand. Employees of his hand out water to everyone under the pavilion until the king comes out of his home. I almost thought I was at the Double Cross Ranch when King Newman walked out because he could easily pass as wrestling legend Terry Funk. My enthusiasm quickly turned to boredom.
All the children picked out makeshift wooden swords and became knights and dames by Mr. Newman. He gave a speech about the history of the castle, and it has been a work in progress since 2004. He also laid out a story in which the kids needed to defend the fort when the time came. I was hyped for this as my youngest is really into sword fighting. The tour then headed over to the catapult in which one of his workers set it up to launch a stone into the mote. His dog eagerly anticipated at the structure but was disappointed after the first attempt failed. The second attempt was successful but felt anticlimactic. Now it was time to storm the castle and defeat the one antagonist wielding an axe and his two ducks. Upon making entry this concluded the tour and was all free roam for the guests until they felt it was time to eat lunch and leave. An eight, five and two-year-old set free in a castle to explore can be a parent’s worst nightmare.
The eight-year-old was lost at least two times and the other two were constantly in danger of falling. I know my children are clumsy so climbing the steep, homemade stairs to the heights of castle with no real side rails was extremely dangerous! Rails and chains were there to grab but not nearly adequate for little ones. I don’t know how the other adults were fairing but the awkward angles of the stairs were killing my legs. I realized that the only fighting that was going to happen was my calves and quadriceps against the surprise of a Charlie horse. So many stairs and so many rooms.
At least half of the rooms were locked. I’m not sure why but I can think of more bad reasons than good. A review my wife read said the locals said he is a good guy but also said “who just builds a castle to live in?” So, with that said I would not expect to walk into one of those locked rooms and find anything normal. If it was normal, then it would probably be unlocked. He was not shy about leaving his personal belongings around when his bedroom was open for the tour. His phone was clearly charging on the table next to his bed. Personally, I try to make it a point to not leaving anything important laying around for my kids to break or lose. So, what if something in his castle gets broken during the tour or someone gets hurt?
I noticed Mr. Newman sitting alone on the bridge and decided to make small talk. I usually talk about weather first to someone I don’t know but I felt like I had a good question this time.
“What kind of insurance do you need on this castle? What if someone storms your castle, then what do you tell the insurance company,” I asked jokingly?
He slowly looked up at me, clearly acknowledging that I spoke to him then looked straight ahead in a complete trance. It was like his body was there, but his mind was not. There have been reviews reflecting my same experience.
The overall experience was okay. It was an hour and a half drive there and cost $20 a person, even kids. The rule was if they could walk it was $20. The kids thought it was cool, but I only recommend a one-time visit. His employees seem to be the life of the business and his lack of energy brings it down. The guy with the axe was doing weed eating during the tour. He was great with the kids and the woman there was as well. She gave my youngest a cookie when he was getting tired of the king’s drawn-out story that went nowhere in the end.
On the way home my wife was finding reviews repeating our same experiences. I kept thinking to myself that I wish it was my father-in-law as the king instead. He would have been far better with the kids, as well as parents. “Butch the Handyman” would have been able to explain how he built the stairs, bridge, and catapult. Also, what wood he used and why. The knighting process would have also felt more meaningful coming from him as he puts his heart into his words, and you can feel the authority in his voice.
The trip home also gave my wife and I a good laugh as we passed by a “Trump Burger!” Yes, a “Trump Burger!” A restaurant named themselves this. I am sure the publicity works for them, hopefully in a positive way. The marketing worked so well that I had to turn around and get out just to get a picture. My wife sent it to another homeschool mom leaving the trip who was about to get a picture herself. I’m sure my friend Rudy will be excited to know his president has a restaurant.